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The vast majority of alphabetic writing systems are part of the Phoenician lineage (e.g. Latin, Cyrillic and friends) or Brahmic (Devanagari and friends). Is there an active alphabetic system outside these two families. I found it surprising if there are only two families, while other types of writing system seem to have a lot more families. Is there any explanation to this?

  • Very interesting question. Even though writing was invented independently a couple of times (certainly at least once in Old World and once in New World), alphabet seems to be invented only once, with the probable exception of Hangul. – cyco130 May 5 '12 at 23:49
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Yes. Korean Hangul.

This is the only one known to me.

(Incidentally, the Brahmic lineage is itself derived from the Phoenician.)

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  • Isn't Hangul a syllabary? – Louis Rhys Oct 21 '11 at 15:42
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    @LouisRhys No it's not. It's an alphabet with consonants and vowels. :) When written, words are "clearly" visually divided in syllables, but consonants and vowels "exist" alone. For example: ㅅ(s), ㅏ(a), ㄹ(r), ㅏ(a), ㅁ(m): 사람 saram = person. The word has 2 blocks, which are 2 syllables, SA + RAM, but you can see the difference with Japanese where SA さ is a single symbol. – Alenanno Oct 21 '11 at 16:07
  • ok. +1 from me, but I'd love other examples (or if somebody can explain the apparent small number of alphabet lineages) – Louis Rhys Oct 21 '11 at 17:12
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    There is, however, a theory linking Hangul back into the Brahmic (hence, Phoenician) lineage. – Zhen Lin Oct 21 '11 at 23:04
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    @LouisRhys: I suspect there is speculation on this question in Bright & Daniels, The World's Writing Systems, but I haven't checked. It certainly appears that alphabets have been invented far less often than syllabaries: besides Phoenician and Hangul, the only other one I recall is Ugaritic. I certainly remember a suggestion (perhaps in Bright & Daniels) that the syllable is a more natural and salient element than a phone in decomposing speech phonetically. – Colin Fine Oct 24 '11 at 11:30
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While Hangul (Korean) is not totally based on the Phoenician alphabetic system it was inspired by the shapes in Tibetan(Phagspa) and other Brahmic scripts, see the origin of Hangul.

Also some modern day scripts are also not based strictly on the Phoenician alphabetic system. One example is the Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics. Note that this too was inspired by Devanagari & Pitman.

Note: If you were to account for Syllabaries too (Not strictly Alphabetic) the Yi Script would be one too - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yi_script

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  • Hangul was so inspired according to one person's theory. And the OP asked specifically about alphabetic writing systems, not syllabaries. – Colin Fine May 20 '12 at 0:42

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